Today's guest post is from another member of my church community. She graciously shared her story at our retreat, but would like for her post to remain anonymous. So, if you know who this lovely lady is and you want to tell her how awesome she is, send her a private message - please don't use her name in the comments or on Facebook. Thanks!
I am someone who always felt she could do anything and everything.
I am the last in a long line of women, maybe since Eve, hell-bent on appearing OK, on appearing strong, capable, and funny; quick to apologize, uncomfortable with being wrong or with being accused of any ill-intent or of hurting anyone. In life, I learned that being liked and a perfect appearance were the most important things to strive for. “Proper pre-planning prevents poor performance.” Somewhere I translated this to “I must be perfect to be loved and valued.” Being good at things was my drug. School, athletics, music, board games, you name it, I wanted to win and I often did.
I found security in pride in my work, my ability to please people, my appearance, my accolades. What I viewed as success, and what I believed others viewed as success had a flip side. Failures meant criticism, rejection and possibly not being liked by someone, or misunderstood. I was terrified of these alternatives and tried to avoid them at all costs. Failure just was not an option, it felt like death.
This is not a story of tragic scale on par with what is happening in the world today, but it is still a story of God gracious pursuit of my whole heart. God has freed me up by graciously allowing me to experience my imagined worst-case scenarios, almost all at once, and thus come to the end of myself in each these areas.
I started my earnest journey with Jesus at the end of high school. I became a Christian initially because I realized I wasn’t the best at everything. The selective university I attended humbled me immediately. My first “D” in Physics and I was on my face in new territory, clinging to Jesus. One would think I would have clung to that truth going forward. Old habits apparently are hard to break. As I got older, it still felt as if “Jesus plus something” was the correct mathematical formula.
A large part of my Christian life was spent single. I was a terrible single person. It was my thorn. It felt massive to me and like my biggest failure. I was good at everything except finding a spouse. My pastor at the time used to say “getting married won’t save you.” I figured that was absolutely true for everyone... except for me.
After parading around with several obvious “toads” I finally met and married my amazing husband. Immediately, we found ourselves unexpectedly expecting and I had no idea how it was going to work. We were still trying to figure out how to agree upon loading the dishwasher in our tiny apartment and now we were going to bring in another life into this first and supposedly “hardest” year of marriage. I was terrified of how a baby would change our lives and coming to grips with the idea that I couldn’t know everything that was about to happen.
I see now how my hunger shifted from desperately wanting to be married to desperately wanting to control everything within marriage and my life. As I gained weight, both from wedded bliss, and from the baby, my confidence shrank, my pride was wounded and I felt badly about myself. I started to worry that marriage, as good as it was, was not the ultimate life-fix I hoped it would be. This all together was crushing.
I starting thinking I just needed to try harder.
I started seeing a counselor. I needed to get it together to be the super woman I should be. I needed to figure this out and then I would feel okay again. I just needed to figure it out.
A short three months after our sweet son was born I took a promotion at my job. I’ll skip over the crushing feelings of inadequacy that your first newborn brings, but know that was certainly there and a whole new set of lessons in cluelessness and inadequacy.
I was now a manager at a consulting company. This put me in the position of leading 30 people, some of whom I had absolutely no business leading. With almost no training, I was thrown into the shark tank wearing a prosciutto wet-suit.
I was told my weakness would be that I needed to try to not be everyone’s friend or make everyone happy. I was also told that I should worry about selling new work, something which I hate doing and have almost zero natural aptitude to do. Somehow, the work did come and my team was quickly overloaded, vocal, and critical of their new boss (me).
I questioned my every move and felt panicked and exposed. I felt deep deep down that God had indeed put me here because I could be a good leader. I still do. I was ill-equipped to deal with the sense that I was not liked. That security blanket was shredded. A wise counselor told me that often when we live our lives in a public way, our issues come to the surface in ways that they would not otherwise. He said it would be a shame to miss this opportunity. He was right, but it was awful.
Almost a third of my staffers quit in the first two years. Not all were directly related to me and my shortcomings, (some actually were) but I took each and every exodus very personally just the same. Harsh voices in my head abounded. “People don’t quit working for people they like”. I was failing. There was no hiding. Underlying all of this was the stress of getting “found out”, of admitting that I didn’t belong in this chair. My employees, clients, upper management, demanded perfection in all areas. There was very little grace. I would read anonymous surveys from my employees about my performance as their leader and then I would just drive to a Five Guys parking lot and cry. And eat Five Guys.
I had to try harder. I had to figure this out.
The stress I put on myself, the long hours I worked to try to persevere through this time, the awful food I ate to feel good for a few minutes a day, added to my already inflated post-baby weight and further diminished my self-esteem. I’m not good at what I do, I don’t look good doing it, and I don’t feel very nice or particularly charming, nor am I to be friends with anyone at work to achieve the separation required to lead effectively. My hair, once something I was very proud of, was falling out in clumps due to lack of sleep, stress and hormones. My identity was stripped away and I spiraled… what’s left of me?
My prayer life, never particularly abundant, dried up completely and was replaced by emailing for work at 2am some nights. I did know that God was still there, but I had nothing to reach up to Him with. I felt like a failure as a wife, mother, and manager. I let people I cared about down during that time; I missed birthdays, and stopped signing up for service projects. I needed more hours in the day to get it all right. I had pretty much found my limit and I started…slowly…to give in…to let go, because there seemed to be no other option. I was exhausted and frustrated and at my end.
As a former prom queen of a farm-town, and darling of a tiny high school… this girl felt stripped of all accolades, all words of praise, and my already shaky image of physical beauty. I was trying to thrive unprepared in a man’s world, in a man’s profession…leading difficult men all while feeling like a broken little girl.
I admittedly contemplated some pretty dark things, thinking that the world just might be a better place without me. They were sort of dark fantasies really. Fantasies of rest and of peace and of not “hurting” or “failing” anyone anymore. Odd that my options felt like death or Jesus. Maybe in some ways it was the same thing. Surrender. Death to the idols I had so long been serving. Death to anything that could have sat in His place that would give me my worth.
I tried all my “normal” fixes. Meeting with friends...talking to my house group...complaining to my husband. Nothing seemed to alleviate my feelings of self loathing. Even more, people didn’t seem to ‘see’ what I was dealing with. Not many people expect the types of perfections I expected? Maybe.
God very purposefully brought me here this way. He brought me to a place where no one else’s words or assurances could save me, because they can’t. No amount of praise or “atta girls” or “hang in there’s” were going to help fix the deepest part of my soul. He took me to a place where there were no words from other people left.
He corralled me into his heart by dead-ending everything else. The Lord alone freed me and helped me through this time. I had pulled on my bootstraps hard enough and long enough that they finally snapped. God made it so I literally had nowhere else to go but into His heart and into His care. God coached me through these places I had never walked in before. I was going through real failures and real heartbreak at not being able to please people or myself and I was invited out of my limitation into his mercy. It was not an overnight thing. It took time. It was like water shaping rock.
As I think of that time of severe mercy and how it exposed me but freed me, I am undone and amazed. It felt so awkward at first… walking around in this body without my letter jacket of accolades, without a resume, without a series of likeable qualities to fall back on. But it also felt like… OH. Maybe I never needed that stuff. God…maybe really.. really really….. is Enough.
As Anne Lamott would say: “Grace is the light or electricity or juice or breeze that takes you from that isolated place and puts you with others who are as startled and embarrassed and eventually grateful as you are to be there.”